Flagship Program Aims to Buck Lowered Expectations

Photo: CIBER Field will host Friday night’s Colorado Cup match DU vs. Colorado State

A 4th place predicted finish – in the Summit League?

That was my reaction when I saw Jeff Hooker’s flagship program pre-season 2016-2017 ranking. Heading into last season, USA Today  selected DU as on of the top 10 places to play women’s soccer in the entire nation. Not that long ago, the Pioneers were facing CU in a packed CIBER Stadium with a first-round NCAA match on the line. And the Pioneers program had marquee players who were not only well known in the local soccer community but the nation as well – Kristen Hamilton, Taryn Hemmings, and Nicholette DiGiacomo.

The 2015-2016 season started with a historic 8-game goal scoring drought. The team rebounded a bit in conference play (4-4) but missed the Summit League playoffs for the first time in their history – finishing 4-12-1.

A powerhouse team that posted an astounding 18-2-1 record just two years earlier is now a four-pick and in the middle of the Summit League behind North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Oral Roberts.

It’s way too early to give up on Hooker’s squad this year. Starting his 25th year, he is the dean of DU coaches and has earned a sterling 152-49-17 overall record with 10 conference Coach of the Year awards. He clearly knows how to coach and win. In fact, even before DU’s recent Directors Cup run, women’s soccer was one of the sports DU could count on to deliver positive results year in and year out.

The Pioneers have two second team all-conference selections in defender Cristiana Behnken and forward Karina Fredette. Also, talented and dangerous senior midfielder Francesca Garzelloni is going to have to pick up the scoring slack. Senior goalkeeper Cassidy Rey is going to have to protect the back of the net for the Pioneers to beat preseason expectations. The team is shy on depth and will have to rely on strong individual performances to beat expectations.

This season will test both players and coaches. And goal scoring will continue to be a hurdle with needed improvement coming from returning players. DU only has three new freshmen, none of them forwards or big-time goal scorers.

Still, expect the Pioneers to exceed expectations.

Their first match of the year is Friday, August 19th against Colorado State in the Colorado Cup series.